So, it hasn’t really been that long, a bit over a year, since I started learning Korean and thus since I started spending quite a significant amount of my spare time on language learning and trying to understand a different culture. So this year has been the first time that I’ve considered this as an actual interest of mine. However, growing up I had different phases of being interested in different cultures and countries as well. And despite growing up in an overall quite a homogeneous society I did actually grow up in a fairly diverse environment.
So Today I’d just like to talk a bit about my experiences with that. Both some things that I learned growing up and some things from my Korean learning journey. And just why I think learning about and being exposed do different cultures is super awesome and enriching and also really important.
The primary school that I went to was maybe about 50/50 native/foreign students and there were over 40 different languages spoken among the students there. Most of the students there who weren’t ethnically Danish were usually from around the Middle East and some of the surrounding countries. Every year we had this thing called something along the lines of ‘international annual celebration’ (rough translation) where the parents of a lot of the foreign students would be responsible for making all the food and there were little stands with food from all over the world. In preparation for this ‘annual celebration’ each grade had to spend a few weeks learning about some country (learn their culture, food, politics etc.).
I remember for example one year our school had invited two guys from somewhere around central Africa (I can’t remember the exact country). They taught us some of their traditional songs and dances. To this day I can still remember one of the songs actually. They also introduced us to a particular type of traditional theater from their country and we created our own piece in the style of this type of theater, which we then performed for our parents.
So all of this really had a big impact on me to become interested in learning about different places and different ways of life. I remember becoming particularly interested in the Arabic speaking world from all of these experiences. I was especially really interested in Egypt for a while. There was one time we had to make a presentation in class of a country of our choosing. It was only supposed to be 15 minutes long, but because my teacher didn’t stop me I ended up blabbing on for a good 45 minutes about Egypt.
When I then later started to learn English and got access to the internet, that was when I realized the role that languages play in learning about people from around the world. I still remember very clearly the first time I was talking to someone from a different country through the internet. It was a girl from Ireland and we were talking about our lives in our respective countries. I still remember how completely fascinated I was by being able to connect with someone from a completely different country just by a few clicks of a mouse and learning a bit of English. That was also the time that I decided that I wanted to become really good at English. Because I wanted to be able to connect with the world outside of just the ‘Scandinavian bubble’ that I grew up in.
Since I’ve started studying other languages than English I’ve also experienced that like instant connection you get with someone if you speak as a foreigner to them in their native language. Both with German and Korean, people have just been really excited that I’ve learnt some of their language. And I’ve experienced the same if I’ve seen people speak Danish as a foreign language as well. I remember seeing a video that went around on Facebook last year of a young girl refugee that had only been learning Danish for a few months and she spoke incredibly well considering how long she’d been learning.
I feel like all of these experiences, and especially learning languages, have helped me immensely to be able to respect, accept and appreciate different cultures. I think that particularly in the society that we live in Today with police brutalities and Islamophobia and things like that, the world could use some more respect, acceptance and tolerance. And it’s not that I think learning languages will necessarily fix all of this, but I think that learning a little bit about our neighbors is a step in the right direction.
Because by learning languages and learning about cultures that are different from your own, you begin to notice not just the things that make us all different from each other, but also what things are the same. All the things that are just fundamentally human things. How you can share similar visions and experiences and emotions as someone from a completely different country. And for me at least, having experiences like this makes learning a new language so, so rewarding and worth all the time and effort that it takes to learn a new language.